I have this whole theory about why I am a better cook than a baker. Baking involves following instructions and being exact. Cooking, much like crafting, can bend the rules. You can add a little of this and a little of that, and it might just make things better. Do that with baking, and your soufflé won't rise. I am a crafter. I love to cook and craft—baking, not so much.
Left Brain vs. Right Brain?
My theory started when my daughter asked me to play Legos with her. She is like her daddy. He has a math minor; his dad is an engineer; he works on spreadsheets all day. He is also a great baker. Anyway, my daughter was building her Lego Friends kit, following the instructions to a tee. I, on the other hand, just started grabbing pieces and making my own Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Lego house.
This blew my daughter's mind. At first, she stole pieces back from me, insisting they were not supposed to go there, but instead in Mia’s magic trick box or Stephanie’s ice cream parlor. I assured her it that it was fine to branch out and NOT follow the instructions from time to time. It took a little coaching, but she finally started building her own ideas and designs. Now she is a Lego architect, building with wild abandon. The truth of the matter is that those little pictorial guides that come with Legos make me shut down, much like a complicated recipe does. I see a long list of things I am supposed to do, and suddenly I want to shut my eyes and take a nap. Luckily, this time I was able to skirt the issue of Mommy was not much for instruction manuals. If I had been teaching her to bake, this story would not have had a happy ending.
Do You See Detailed Instructions as Love Letter or Hate Mail?
I also like to repurpose kitchen items outside the kitchen … do you?
Some people love instructions, exact measurements, and parameters. This does not make them less creative people. This makes them very smart and talented people. Others, like me, feel stifled by those same things. I get distracted, and start to wonder, “Do I really have to whip the butter and the sugar in a different bowl, or can I just throw it all in there together and go for it?”
That's why I find that cooking gels more with my personality. I can make something delicious out of almost anything in my pantry. And it's the same with crafting for me: I don’t need a manual or instructions to make art or jewelry.
Baking is Exact
In cooking, you can substitute chicken for beef or tofu for tempeh. Cooking is a matter of understanding a lot of different potential ingredients in terms of their taste, texture, and even appearance. Being able to combine all those elements in unique ways is what makes cooking like crafting.
If I'm baking a cake and run out of milk, I can't add powdered creamer in its place. Ask my husband about the time I thought butter and shortening were interchangeable when baking cookies. Crafting and cooking for me are often about using what I have on hand and making do. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. The same is true with making a pot of vegetable soup, or whipping up a laptop case out of an old suitcase you have lying around.
No Two Crafts or Batches of Enchiladas Are the Same
If someone asked me for my chicken enchilada recipe, I probably could not give it to her. There is a lot of what I like to call “eyeballing” it going on when I cook (especially when I cook Mexican food; I taste it and know if it needs more cumin, chipotle, or green chiles). It is not something I can write out. Each batch is slightly different and some are better than others.
Same goes for crafting. Yes, I make a living crafting and telling other people how to do it. However, I never fully expect people to follow my exact “craft recipe.” I don’t follow recipes or craft instructions exactly, and I often forget that others sometimes do. This approach is where I get into trouble baking: Cookbooks and long recipes scare me. I can’t taste my cake halfway through to see if tastes OK without getting salmonella or spoiling the cake; I need to follow the recipe and be exact. Each cake should, for the most part, be exactly like the last.
Jack of All Crafty Trades and Master of None
My sister Hope's kitchen.
In the last week I have painted spoon puppets, made a terrarium, poured salt on glue for watercolor, attached hair curlers to canvases and thought deep thoughts about paper maché. I am still not Martha Stewart, or great at any of those things. It's the same with cooking. One night I might make Thai; another Indian—I’m still not a master of either curry.
People that I know who consider themselves bakers are hardcore. Those people can make a pie crust fluffy without batting an eye. Their cakes and breads are never dense. Their cupcakes are all the exact same size. You know why? They hone their skill. They read the instructions and—gasp!— follow them. They measure things out (my kids long ago stole my measuring spoons to add to their mud pie kitchen). They practice that one skill, of baking, and become great at it.
Time Is of the Essence
In baking, timing is pretty important. Sure, you can burn something when cooking, but with baking you can really screw things up if your timing is off. Crafters are more of the slow cooker and giant pot of soup variety. We lose track of time a lot better than we keep it. Even more exact than baking is making candy. That whole thermometer and stirring constantly thing? Le whoa. Timing and temperature is everything here. This crafter, for one, knows for a fact that she is better off eating candy than she is trying to make it.
My soft pretzels kinda look like hangers, right? Hopefully, the more wine the girls at the clothes swap drink, the more they will look like hangers.
Sure, I can bake. I can actually bake well. It just hurts a little. I have never been very good at following the rules or reading instructions. Baking often has a certain order that must be followed in order for the end product to turn out correctly. If I don’t let my dough rise before I roll out my pizza it is going to suck. I can’t roll it out and then let it rise.
With crafting, there is not usually an order or system. For me things just happen organically. Often times I come to a step in a project and think to myself: “I probably should have done A before B, but oh well. ” Same with cooking; if you forget to add an ingredient at one point, you can usually squeeze it in sometime later without screwing everything up.Grocery Shopping Like a Crafter
I shop for groceries and crafts the same way: with no rhyme or reason. I often roll up from the grocery store with bags full of random, with no menu or plan in mind; I just know I will be able to make something work.
I do the same thing when I hit the craft store. I can’t walk out of a Michaels, Jo-Ann, or Hobby Lobby without a bag of supplies I have no real plan for. But when I decided to convert a cake stand into a terrarium this week, I was thankful I had picked up that bag of neon pink aquarium gravel that spoke to me at the store a few weeks ago.
When you bake, you need to have everything on your list. That is not to say you can’t sub out the occasional blueberry for a raspberry, but for the most part, you better buy everything on the supply list for your recipe.
But … Some Crafts ARE Like Baking
Sewing, knitting, and quilting are all pretty exact. Miss a stitch or guesstimate on a pattern, and something is going to go horribly wrong. You can't mess around with the rules; all the ingredients and/or instructions have a reason for being there. Cooking and general crafts, not so much.
This is not by any means to imply that bakers (or sewers or knitters or quilters) are not creative or free thinkers! I have seen amazing crazy quilts, and I know who Knitta is. I am also not trying to imply that crafters and cooks are so willy-nilly that they could never bake. For me, baking just does not come as naturally as cooking does.
And, of course, pro chefs are different; they have VERY honed skills and they absolutely HAVE to be consistent day after day. I'm talking about home cooks, here. I’m talking general themes; broad strokes. In my personal life and for those around me, this analogy holds true. As my mother always says, baking is science and cooking is art. (In school, I always did better in art.)
So, the question is, are you a crafter or a baker? Or do you have a different take?